Christianity After Auschwitz : Evangelicals Encounter Judaism In The New Millennium
There is an old Jewish adage that pretty much sums up Israel's experience among the nations for the last 2,000 years. "Scratch a gentile," the saying goes, "and you're sure to find an anti-Semite."
That notion is given credence by the fact that the first two millennia of the Jewish-Christian encounter culminated in the systematic slaughter of six-million Jews in the heart of Christendom.
But Dr. Paul R. Carlson, author of Christianity After Auschwitz, is cautiously optimistic that the dawn of this new millennium may lead to Jewish-Christian amity as the Church faces up to its past sins and seeks to work with the Synagogue against those demonic forces which threaten civilization itself.
However, as Carlson illustrates, the genocidal germ that gave birth to Hitler's criminal regime still flourishes among countless Christians, many of whom would passionately deny they harbor any anti-Semitic notions or sentiments.
While the book is addressed primarily to Carlson's fellow evangelicals, both Jews and Christians will discover that it provides the general reader with an overview of those critical issues which scholars alone have in the past wrestled with in the post-Holocaust Jewish-Christian encounter.
At the outset, Carlson is quick to concede that the late Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, a scion of the great Chechnowa Rebbe, was certainly correct when he insisted that "Christians have never tried to penetrate the soul of the Jews.
"They have read the Bible but neglected the oral tradition by which we interpret it," he noted. "This makes a different Bible altogether.
For example, says Rav Soloveitchik: "To equate Judaism with legalism the way Christian theologians are prone to do is like equating mathematics with a compilation of mathematical equations."
By the same token, old stereotypes die hard.
"The Jew has been pictured as the arch-capitalist and the arch-Bolshevik and chastised for being both, whipsawed by contending forces," says Nathan C. Belth. "The Soviet authorities [saw] Jews as a threat to the state, and Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who castigate[d] Soviet terror, sees Jews as libertarians who brought on socialism, after, of course, rejecting Christ."
Since time-immemorial, anti-Semites have also portrayed the Jew as the greedy, shady businessman or banker. But they conveniently forget stories such as that of Haym Salomon [1740-1785], the Jewish broker whose financial aid staved off starvation and desertion among American troops during our War for Independence.
At one critical point, Robert Morris, the American financier and statesman, sent a messenger to alert Haym Salomon of the plight of the cash-strapped Colonial forces. The man brought the news to Salomon while he was attending Yom Kippur services at Mikveh Israel Synagogue in Philadelphia. The congregation was shocked at the intrusion on the holiest day of the Jewish year; but Haym Salomon quietly informed the messenger: "Tell Mr. Morris our country's appeal will not be in vain."
But that old canard about Jews and their money remains grist for the anti-Semite's mill.
By the same token, Jews have not been entirely blameless when it comes to their own stereotypes of Christians, particularly evangelicals.
Nathan Perlmutter confessed as much during his tenure as national director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) of B'nai B'rith.
"Our image of the fundamentalist and the evangelical is a kind of collage assembled out of bits and pieces from Theodore Dreiser, Sinclair Lewis and Erskine Caldwell . . . ," he admitted. "Even after all this time memories of the great swarm of sex-ridden, Bible-thumping caricatures continue to exert a pervasive power."
But evangelicals would be among the first to admit that Jews have come a long way since the days of the infamous Toledot Yeshu, or Life of Jesus, which depicted the Galilean in scandalous terms.
Indeed, the Israeli author Shalom Ben-Chorin is representative of those Jewish intellectuals who now believe that "it is time for Jesus to come home again."
Meanwhile, few Christians realize just how vulnerable many Jews feel in what they perceive to be "Christian America." That perception is heightened by the 1992 American Jewish Year Book finding that "roughly 12 percent of Americans of Jewish heritage are now Christians."
"There is another way of looking at what I have called a disaster in the making," says former US Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, author of Faith or Fear: How Jews Can Survive in a Christian America
"Of the 6.8 million people who are Jews or of Jewish descent, 1.1 million say they have no religion and 1.3 million have joined another religion, adding up to 2.4 million," Abrams observes. "This means that one-third of the people in America of Jewish ethnic origin no longer report Judaism as their current religion (Abrams italics).
Such statistics illustrate why Jewish leaders unanimously condemn those Christian missionary agencies which specifically target Jews for conversion. They have been particularly incensed by one recent evangelical effort, known as Peace 2000, which aimed to convert every Jew in Israel to Christianity by the dawn of the new millennium.
"Centuries of martyrdom are the price which the Jewish people has paid for survival," says Brandeis scholar Marshall Sklare. "And the apostate, at one stroke, makes a mockery of Jewish history.
"But if the convert is contemptible in Jewish eyes," Sklare adds, "the missionary -- all the more, the missionary of Jewish descent -- is seen as pernicious, for he forces the Jew to relive the history of his martyrdom, all the while pressing the claim that in approaching the Jew he does so out of love.
"What kind of love is it, Jews wonder, that would deprive a man of his heritage," Sklare asks. "Furthermore, given the history of Christian treatment of the Jews, would it not seem time at last to recognize that the Jew has paid his dues and earned the right to be protected from obliteration by Christian love as well as destruction by Christian hate?"
The distinguished Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was even more pointed about the matter. "I had rather enter Auschwitz," he once remarked, "than be an object of conversion."
All of this leads to the opening chapter of Christianity After Auschwitz, which introduces Christians to Emil Fackenheim's "Eleventh Commandment" -- or 614th Mitzvoth -- which decrees that Jews are not permitted to grant Hitler any posthumous victories through intermarriage, assimilation, or conversion to a faith not their own. In a word, they are commanded to remain Jews.
By the same token, Jewish scholars are quick to recognize that any "open and honest" dialogue will at some point involve a frank discussion of the similarities and differences between the Jewish and Christian perception[s] of the Messianic hope.
With that understanding, the second chapter deals with the remarkable career of the late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the seventh and last Grand Rebbe of the Chabad Lubavitch Hasidim. Many of his talmidim, or disciples, believe he will ultimately be revealed as King-Messiah. His life and work are considered within the context of that of Jesus of Nazareth, as well as those of several pseudo-messiahs who have troubled Israel down through the centuries
The author then makes it clear that Jesus himself was not a Christian. He was raised in a traditional Jewish home and shared the same nationalistic hopes of his fellow Jews. When it came to the Law, he generally sided with the much-maligned Pharisees. Many contemporary Jewish scholars have gone so far as to argue that "it is time for Jesus to come home again."
This chapter further highlights the fact that Jewish scholarship often serves as a much-needed corrective to the findings of the controversial Jesus Seminar and other radical non-Jewish academics regarding the Jesus of history. To that end, Christians are introduced to the work of such noted Jewish scholars as David Flusser, Jacob Neusner, Geza Vermes, and Joseph Klausner, among others.
But all of this begs the question as to whether Jews really need to accept Jesus as their Messiah. One answer to this divisive issue is that of Franz Rosenzweig, who insists that the gentiles must accept the Gospel in order to reach the Father, while his fellow Jews, he argues, are "already with Him." The question of the so-called "Two Covenant Theory" is further discussed from both the Jewish and Christian perspectives in the chapter entitled, "Though He Tarry," and elsewhere in the book.
The book then surveys the findings of Jules Isaac, whose wife and daughter were murdered by the Nazis, "killed simply because their name was Isaac." In seeking to understand anti-Semitism, this distinguished French historian concluded: "I have seen Christian anti-Semitism as the powerful trunk, with deep and multiple roots, upon which have been grafted other varieties of anti-Semitism, even varieties as anti-Christian as Nazi racialism." This chapter examines in detail the three primary libels which Isaac says evolved into a "system of degradation" against the Jews and which permeated Christian teaching from the Fourth Century onward.
"The Gospel of Genocide" opens with the caustic retort of an elderly Jewish woman who one day was approached with the claims of the Christian Gospel. "Don't try to tell me about the love of Jesus," she said scornfully. "I've seen it demonstrated!" Her reaction is examined in light of the anti-Judaic teaching of the Church Fathers, the rise of the imperial Church, and a growing body of restrictive legislation, not unlike that imposed by the Nazis. This chapter also surveys the anti-Semitic thrust of the Crusades, the expulsion of the Jews from the Iberian Peninsula, as well as Jewish life under the Puritans and Martin Luther.
"Gotterdammerung" follows the course of anti-Semitism from the age of Erasmus and Luther to the rise of the Third Reich and its diabolical "Final Solution of the Jewish Problem." During this period, Jewish suffering mounted with the growth of political and racial anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe, France, and Germany. As Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg sums up the matter: "The Nazi destruction process did not come out of a void; it was the culmination of a cyclical trend . . . The missionaries of Christianity had said in effect: You have no right to live among us as Jews. The secular rules who followed had proclaimed: You have no right to live among us. The German Nazis at last decreed: You have no right to live."
"Masters of Deceit" makes short shrift of the outrageous claims of those who deny the Holocaust ever occurred. This chapter opens with Israel's case against SS Obersturmbannfuhrer Adolf Eichmann, who, at the height of his power, once boasted: 'One hundred dead is a catastrophe. Five million is a statistic." With this introduction, the chapter outlines the courses of Hitler's war against the Jews, beginning with the infamous Nuremburg Laws, followed by Kristallnacht, then the establishment of ghettos and concentration camps, and finally the "Kingdom of Death." In the final section, a litany of incontrovertible testimony is cited to unmask the deception the Nazis employed to hide their demonic actions both from their victims and the world. The chapter closes with judgment at Nuremberg.
"Christ and Anti-Christ" deals with the Kirchenkampf, or German Church Struggle, under the Nazis. So seriously were the churches compromised that one Protestant scholar has claimed there were "none righteous, no not one" (Psalm 14:1,3; Romans 3:10).
In 1933, Hitler signed a concordat with the Vatican which weakened the Romans Catholic response to his genocidal policies. By the same token, the Nazis dealt a major blow to the Evangelical witness by supporting the establishment of a Reichskirche, or Reich Church, loyal to Hitler. In terms of the Jews, the traditional theological anti-Semitism found in the churches blunted the undeniably courageous responses of Otto Dibelius, Karl Barth, Martin Niemoeller, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and other leaders of the Bekennende Kirche, or Confessing Church, which had been created to counteract the influence of those who parroted Nazi racial theory in the name of Positives Christentum, or Positive Christianity.
This chapter also examines the roles of heroic Roman Catholic leaders, the enigmatic Kurt Gerstein, and the various circles of resistance involved in Operation Valkyrie, which culminated in the abortive July 20, 1944, plot on Hitler's life. The chapter ends with an indictment against the Allied Powers for doing little "while six million died."
"Can These Bones Live?" That question pondered by the Prophet Ezekiel is answered affirmatively in light of the creation of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948. Among those who helped to bring about this reality were Theodor Herzl, Moses Hess, Leo Pinsker, Peretz Smolenskin, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, Chaim Weizmann, and David Ben-Gurion. Their contributions are examined in light of such factors as L'Affaire Dreyfus, divisions within the Zionist movement, the revival of Hebrew, the Balfour Declaration, and the British White Paper of 1939.
"If I Forget Thee, O Jerusalem" deals with the Zionist hope from the perspectives of both the Jewish and Christian faiths. The chapter opens with the Jewish rejection of a British offer to resettle the persecuted Jews of Russia in places other than their ancient homeland. It then examines opposition to political Zionism from the standpoints of both Reform Judaism and Jewish Orthodoxy. The next section deals with some remarkable Christians who shared the Zionist hope, including George Eliot , Thomas Brightman, Oliver Cromwell, Increase Mather, Lord Shaftesbury, William E. Blackstone, Jean Henry Dunant and Orde Wingate, as well as two American presidents, Woodrow Wilson and Harry S. Truman. With few exceptions, these Christian Zionists were rooted and grounded in evangelical faith.
"Two Different Roads" opens with the story of the spiritual odysseys of two Jewish survivors of the Shoah -- Jean Marie Cardinal Lustiger, now the Roman Catholic Cardinal Archbishop of Paris, and Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel. The chapter then goes on to examine the thorny issue of conversion, either to Christianity or to Judaism. The road traveled is anything but a one-way street. There are instances of a Catholic priest and a Southern Baptist couple converting to Orthodox Judaism, while many Jews have embraced Christianity. David H. Stern makes the case for "Messianic Judaism" as a leader of this movement in both Israel and the Diaspora.
"Out of the Whirlwind" examines the belief of many Jewish and Christian scholars that theology must be readjusted in the afterglow of Auschwitz. This chapter opens with the story of Rabbi Richard Rubenstein's 1961 encounter with Dean Heinrich Gruber, an evangelical pastor whose activities on behalf of German Jews -- most of them converts to Christianity -- led to his own imprisonment and near death at Dachau. The chapter then surveys the post-Holocaust theological perspectives of other Jewish writers and scholars of the stature of Emil Fackenheim, Elie Wiesel, Michael Wyschogrod and Abraham Joshua Heschel. In turn, certain Christian scholars have embraced the notion of a "Two Covenant Theory," which holds that Judaism and Christianity are in fact parallel paths to the Olam Ha-Ba, or the world to come. Therefore, it is argued, Christian efforts to win the Jews to the Gospel are at best ill-advised. The evangelical response is delineated in the "Willowbank Declaration" of 1989.
The final chapter raises the question of whether there is in fact a common "Jewish-Christian Tradition." Jacob Neusner and Solomon Schechter are among those Jewish scholars who argue there never has been one and that one cannot exist. Samuel Raphael Hirsch goes a step further and links this widespread notion to Biblical higher criticism, which, he says, represents nothing other than a "higher anti-Semitism." The next section relates some remarkable episodes involving Jews and evangelicals, including that of the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's visit to Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. In the final section, a framework for "free and open" dialogue between Christians and Jews is offered in keeping with Martin Buber's observation that, in such an encounter, each partner "heeds, affirms and confirms his opponent as an existing other."
In keeping with that mandate, Carlson recalls the words of the late Lee A. Belford, who served for many years as a professor of religious education at New York University. In his Introduction to Judaism, Dr. Belford wrote: "If the desire to share is blended with humility and with the knowledge that 'now we see in a mirror dimly (I Corinthians 13:12, RSV), the dialogue between those of different beliefs and practices can lead to creative interaction, to the glory of God and the welfare of man."
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June 13, 2000
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